I headed up to Jackson, Wyoming yesterday to attended the memorial last evening for Chris Onufur and Steve Romeo, who lost their lives in an avalanche this past week. The event was held in the open “square” area at the base of the Jackson Hole Resorts, with one of the famed Jackson tram cars hanging above, doors open and holding a wreath and crossed skis. A large crowd showed up, must have been at least 400 people.
As events such as these are, this one was heart wrenching but at the same time joyful as a celebration of two lives very well lived.
I didn’t know Chris Onufer. It was beautiful hearing what a master he was at his job of heading up the tram maintenance department, “maintaining the machine that brings so much joy.” Indeed, I got a whole new perspective on what the machinery of our ski resorts means to the people who work on it. When those individuals are connected to the community and ski themselves, there exists a synergy where job and lifestyle blend into something very special. It sounded like Chris exemplified that.
Numerous people spoke of course. Onufer’s father was articulate and funny, while at the same time you could see just how hard it must be and our hearts went out to him. Explaining the whole evolution of Steve Romeo’s ski career was his longtime partner Reed Finlay. Amusing tales of Romeo’s start as a lift mechanic brought perspective and depth to the view of Steve’s life. Romeo’s sister Lisa was to me the most poignant, as she brought the view in tight to the family level of brother and sister growing up together, including letting us know the details of Romeo’s first ever day of skiing (he straightlined the bunny hill.)
Anyone who lives in a mountain town for any length of time will end up periodically at events like this. They’re indeed part and parcel to the fabric of alpine lifestyle. But that doesn’t make them any easier. As I heard many times, “this is rough.”
While the process of grief is exactly that, and can’t be hurried, it does help to keep lifting up what is good, and looking at things from the point of view of the cycle of life and death, as the greater human condition. A poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye was included in the even program. The last few lines go like this:
“I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing,
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I do not die.”
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.